Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 19, Issue 6

Kevin Byrne and Eoin O'Malley, "What's in a name? Using surnames as data for party research," Party Politics, 19 (November 2013), 985-997. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Research into political parties and party systems tends to focus almost exclusively on contemporary elections. This is not because the past is not interesting; the most famous description of the determinants of party systems is Lipset and Rokkan's (1967) cleavage voting based on revolutions which may have occurred centuries earlier. In their view the key revolutions place since the seventeenth century, shifting resources and preferences, and causing the formation of new groups. Party systems emerged as the interaction of these groups (particularly their elites) led to the formation of coalitions of interests, operating within institutional constraints. Through this prism, the democratization of much of Europe in the twentieth century saw the emergence of new institutional architecture and the ceding of political power to groups hitherto without formal access to power structures, which in turn saw the emergence of modern party systems.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Surname origin levels in political parties in the Republic of Ireland.
Figure 2. Surname origin levels in political parties in Northern Ireland.
Figure 3. Variation of surname origin levels by region.

Last Paragraph:
This approach to the study of party systems is unusual and the exact approach is very useful for Ireland, where surnames have been given on a patrilineal basis from over 1,000 years ago. However, it could be used to study the effects of population movements, geographic divisions and the behaviour of migrants elsewhere. The idea that waves of migration are important in the formation and maintenance of party systems, even long after the descendants of those immigrants are aware of the nature of their arrival, is also of general interest. So, for instance, we see that in France it was argued that the geographic distribution of support for different parties could be explained by the family structure, which in turn related to the different ancient groups in France (Franks, Celts and Basques) (Le Bras and Todd, 1981). It may be the case, for instance, that the weakness of the religious right in southern parts of Spain and Portugal, as well as being related to their comparative poverty to the North, is also related to the influence of the ancient Moors in those parts. We expect that this approach will help answer other research questions.

Last updated November 2013